29 June 2012

Consequences of Imperialist War


Course on Anti-Imperialism, War and Peace, Part 2a

Lenin in disguise, 1917

Consequences of Imperialist War

The origin of the Age of Imperialism, when it became dominant in the world, were the Imperial wars at the turn of the 19th to the 20th centuries, and most typically the Anglo-Boer War.

The Anglo-Boer War is the most typical of the original, because it showed most clearly what the nature of the new capitalist Imperialism was. Britain made war on the Boer Republics, not so as to rule them directly, and certainly not to liberate the black people living under those racist regimes, but only to possess the gold mines and other such assets as they might wish to have.

The recent Imperialist war on Libya is not different in overall nature.

The typical tactic of Imperialism is not direct colonialism, but indirect, neo-colonialism. As the 20th century went on, the obligations that went with direct rule were abandoned. As a counter to the National Democratic Revolutions, neo-colonialism was increasingly substituted for the older system of direct colonial rule.

This much was described by Lenin in the text that went with the previous post in this series. Lenin paid close attention to the question of Imperialism and wrote a lot about it during this time. It may be helpful for us to look briefly at the general situation before 1916, and thereafter.

The Great Powers had gone to war in 1914, as a consequence of the tensions that Imperialism had brought with it, in a finite, limited world that had been divided between them, but unevenly.

The Workers’ (Second) International had, instead of opposing the war, collapsed. The socialist parties of the contending powers had nearly all opted to support their different bourgeois governments in the terrible mutual slaughter and destruction.

Lenin and the Bolsheviks refused to support the war. They formed the major force in the small “Zimmerwald” International, together with other formations that wanted to maintain the international working-class position of opposition to capitalist war.

By that time Lenin had been in exile for many years. He returned from Switzerland to Russia in April, 1917, a few weeks after the February revolution of that year.

In “The Nascent Trend of Imperialist Economism” (attached), Lenin attacks the “Imperialist Economism” that is against the right to self-determination and against democracy.

Imperialist Economism has “the knack of persistently ‘sliding’ from recognition of imperialism to apology for imperialism (just as the Economists of blessed memory slid from recognition of capitalism to apology for capitalism),” says Lenin.

“Economism” is Syndicalism, or in South African parlance, “Workerism”. It is the belief that trade union struggles alone can solve the problems of the working class. It is reformist, and it relies upon the promises of development of the capitalist economy, with no plans to overthrow it.

“Imperialist Economism” took the reformist logic one step further, to say that Imperialism should be allowed to develop to its fullest, in the belief that when the whole world had become one big monopoly, it could simply be taken over and re-named socialism. The Imperialist Economists promoted the idea that socialism was the end-destination of the Imperialist bus-ride, and that all that was necessary was to get on the bus and encourage Imperialism’s progress, in the name of socialism.

The German Social-Democrat Karl Kautsky, who Lenin called a “renegade”, and “no better than a common liberal”, became the prophet of Imperialist Economism.

In the face of this particular brand of treacherous liquidationism, Lenin was obliged to re-state the necessity for the right of nations to self-determination (see the second attached item). This is a longer document. In it, early on, under the heading “Socialism and the Self-Determination of Nations”, Lenin wrote: “We have affirmed that it would be a betrayal of socialism to refuse to implement the self-determination of nations under socialism.”

So as not to make this introduction to long, let us sum up:
  • There is no final separation between socialism and internationalism (“Workers of the World, Unite!”) but
  • Nations have the right of self-determination

Using the next item we will see the consequence of this struggle of ideas, as it affected the world after the Russian Revolution, and after the Imperialist world war of 1914 -1918 was over.  We will see that Lenin personally, and the Communist International in particular, were able to map out the line of march for the National Democratic Revolutions that subsequently liberated most of the planet, including, eventually, South Africa, from direct colonialism.

28 June 2012



Course on Anti-Imperialism, War and Peace, Part 2

Lord Kitchener poster, 1914


This is the second part of a series on Anti-Imperialism, War and Peace. We are not only concerned to discover Imperialism, but to see it in its particular aspect of war-mongering. [Image: Lord Kitchener, master of war and lying face of Imperialism]

In Chapter 7 of “Imperialism, The Highest Stage of Capitalism” (attached) Lenin “sums up” in a highly compressed way as to what capitalist imperialism is. In the first paragraph, among other things, he says:

“…the monopolies, which have grown out of free competition, do not eliminate the latter, but exist above it and alongside it, and thereby give rise to a number of very acute, intense antagonisms, frictions and conflicts.”

A little later on Lenin writes: “… politically, imperialism is, in general, a striving towards violence and reaction.” The truth of this statement has never been more apparent than it is today.

South Africa has seen Imperialism in all its aspects, but especially in war. It was the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902 that announced Imperialism’s intentions to the world, as much as the Spanish-American War of 1898 did, or the defeat of the Khalifa Abdallahi's forces at Omdurman in Sudan by the British under Kitchener in that same year of 1898. The system of state-monopoly capital and dominance of the mineral-energy complex over the South African productive economy dates from that time, and it has never been fundamentally changed. To change it will mean a new confrontation with Imperialism.

Imperialism is a system of war. Lenin pours scorn on “Kautsky's silly little fable about "peaceful" ultra-imperialism,” calling it “the reactionary attempt of a frightened philistine to hide from stern reality.”

Lenin concludes:

“The question is: what means other than war could there be under capitalism to overcome the disparity between the development of productive forces and the accumulation of capital on the one side, and the division of colonies and spheres of influence for finance capital on the other?”

The age of Imperialism, for more than 110 years, has been an age of war, just as Lenin predicted it would be. From Lenin’s work to that of William Blum’s “Killing Hope” it is clear that Imperialism is an aggressive force which at some stage will have to be confronted. One cannot hope to be exempt from this confrontation forever.

  • A PDF file of the reading text is attached

25 June 2012

The First International


Course on Anti-Imperialism, War and Peace, Part 1b

Revolution in Paris, France: February 1848

The First International

The Communist Manifesto is a deliberately internationalist document. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels were deployed to write it by the international Communist League, of which they were members. The League was strongly based among continental workers in London, where the first edition was printed (in German) while Marx was running a part of it in Brussels, Belgium. Engels was in Germany, and Communist League members were in action in many other countries including France.

The Manifesto’s publication coincided almost exactly with the outbreak of revolution in France, in February of 1848, which quickly spread to other countries. The final Chapter IV of the Manifesto says among other things that: “… the Communists everywhere support every revolutionary movement against the existing social and political order of things,” and it finishes with the famous slogan “Working Men of All Countries, Unite!”

The Communist Manifesto is one of the first two books of Marxism to come into the public realm. Both were written and published in 1847/early 1848 (the other book is “The Poverty of Philosophy”).

Marxism was internationalist from the start and it has never ceased to be so.

Most of the revolutions of 1848 were aimed at overthrowing feudal monarchies, or in other words turning kingdoms into republics, if necessary by supporting the bourgeoisie in the anti-monarchy revolution. The content of Marxist internationalism to this day includes relentless opposition to monarchy.

Marx’s 1864 Address to the International Working Men’s Association (The First International) was the consequence of his being invited and elected to the leadership of that organisation formed in London in a hall next to where the South African High Commission now stands. Please download and read the Address in the downloadable document linked below. Marx had been in exile in London since 26 August 1849 after being banished in quick succession from Belgium, Germany and France. In 1864, Marx’s reputation was that of being the foremost internationalist of his time.

The First International survived until the fall of the Paris Commune in 1871. The Second International was established at a gathering in Chur, Switzerland ten years later in 1881, two years before Marx’s death in 1883 and fourteen years before Engels’ death in 1895. The Second International fostered Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg among many others. Its collapse in 1914 marked the great division between the opportunists (such as the “renegade” Kautsky) who in the face of imperialist war folded their internationalism and became cowardly national chauvinists, and on the other hand the true internationalists like Luxemburg and Lenin who opposed the imperialist war. These latter ones, the true internationalists, were also the communists, who established the communist parties of today.

The Third International, also called the Communist International (or Comintern) was launched in Soviet Russia less than two years after the October Revolution, in 1919, and in 1921 it admitted the Communist Party of South Africa into membership, thus founding the party that is today known as the South African Communist Party, the SACP.

The history of the communists is an unbroken line of internationalism of which the SACP is an indissoluble part. The SACP is still internationalist and it continues to promote the same relentless anti-monarchical, anti-feudal, anti-colonial, anti-neo-colonial, anti-imperialist cause as before and will do so until the day of continental permanent proletarian revolution dawns in Africa.

23 June 2012

1850 Address to the Communist League

Course on Anti-Imperialism, War and Peace, Week 1a

1848 in Berlin

1850 Address to the Communist League

When history is on the move the changes run all over the place. The job of the communists is invariably to urge history on, and to push all the players, including the bourgeoisie, to play their parts to the utmost extent.

The phrase "permanent revolution" belongs first to Marx and not to Trotsky. It comes from the March, 1850 Address given by Karl Marx to the Central Committee of the Communist League, of which "permanent revolution" are the last two words. See below for a link to a downloadable file of this great document.

"Permanent revolution" only means a qualitative change that will be defended.

It does not mean that the revolution is irreversible.

Nor does it mean that the revolution has to be repeated constantly like the punishment of Sisyphus.

The March, 1850 Address to the Communist League is an internationalist document. At the time, the newly formed communist organisations were active all over Europe, in a time when monarchies were falling and feudalism was on the way out in many countries.

Read the document with care and attention!

22 June 2012

On War


Anti-Imperialism, War and Peace, Part 1

 On War

Michael Howard, translator of Clausewitz’ work, and author of “Clausewitz”, opens his Introduction with a quote from one Bernard Brodie, about Clausewitz: “His is not simply the greatest, but the only great book about war;” and Howard records his own agreement with this assessment.

If you can get it, Howard’s book helps readers a lot towards understand Clausewitz’ “On War” (Chapter 1, the summarising chapter, is attached) but in one respect Howard appears to be mistaken.

After describing Clausewitz’ “dialectic” (e.g. the relationship between physical and moral forces; between historical knowledge and critical judgement; between idea and manifestation; between “absolute” and “real” war; between attack and defence; and between ends and means) Howard writes: “The dialectic was not Hegelian: it led to no synthesis which itself conjured up its antithesis. Rather it was a continuous interaction between two poles, each fully comprehensible only in terms of the other.”

But it would seem to be perfectly Hegelian to conceive of such a unity and struggle of opposites; and as to whether Clausewitz’s dialectic lacked a forward dynamic, or not, is something that can be settled at once by reading only a few pages. Whereupon it will be found that Clausewitz is surely one of the most dynamic authors ever.

Clausewitz was ten years younger than Hegel, but died only two days after Hegel, on 16 November 1831. They were both victims of the same cholera epidemic.

Since Hegel’s was the official philosophy of Prussia, and Clausewitz was in charge of the Prussian War College in Berlin for twelve years, while Hegel was Professor of Philosophy at the University of Berlin, it is impossible to believe that Clausewitz was not familiar with Hegel’s then highly fashionable ideas.

These were the same Hegelian ideas that seized the imagination of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels (both of whom spent time in Berlin during the late 1830s to early 1840s) and upon which their thinking relied for the rest of their lives. Clausewitz and Marxism are not far apart, neither in their pedigree, nor in the philosophical structure of their thinking.

Much is made, in the commentaries on Antonio Gramsci’s 20th-century writings, of the contrast between wars of manoeuvre and of position. But the military breakthrough of Clausewitz’s lifetime was the French revolutionary campaign against its neighbours, including Prussia, which had rendered obsolete, already in the 1790s, the ancient military alternatives of march and siege which were the limits of Gramsci's military perception, still, in the 1930s.

Although a servant of the Prussian crown, what Clausewitz described was warfare in the age of mass democracy. As one who fought against Napoleon, Clausewitz had understood Napoleon’s warfare as well as, or better than, anyone else.

Clausewitz defined strategy and tactics as “the linking together of separate battle engagements into a single whole, for the final object of the war.” To define strategy in this way, as end, and tactics as means, was a profound contribution for which we in South Africa owe a debt to Clausewitz.

Equally as profound is the complex of thinking around Clausewitz’ well-known understanding of war as an extension of politics, by other means.

Not only does this mean that war is always and everywhere subordinate to politics; but it also means that war (the breakdown of negotiation and the resort to force) must, and can only, return the parties to the negotiating table. War is an interlude of brutality between negotiations. This was Clausewitz’s most famous insight.

To sum up: The world of 1848, when the Communist Manifesto was first published, was already charged up with historical potential by great preceding events, first and foremost among them the Great French Revolution, with the Napoleonic Wars that followed it; and also by great thinkers and writers, foremost among them GWF Hegel and Carl von Clausewitz, whose insights will assist us to understand the place of violence in the history of revolution.

21 June 2012

Short General Introduction


Anti-Imperialism, War and Peace, Part 0

Short General Introduction

To Anti-Imperialism, War and Peace

We are about to begin a new course on the SADTU Political Education channel: Anti-Imperialism, War and Peace. A previous edition of this course can be accessed here.

The series begins with Chapter 1 of Clausewitz’ “On War”, described by one critic (Bernard Brodie) as “Not simply the greatest, but the only great book on war”. Clausewitz shows the dialectical (or in Clausewitz’ term “reciprocal”) nature of any study of war. It also shows that war can only be an interval between negotiations. It is the pursuit of politics by other means, means which cannot be conclusive, but which have to yield in due course to politics, again.

We are for peace but we have to be prepared for war. We are not pacifists, though we have no interest in bloodshed. We seek the ascendancy of the working proletariat. We know that the bourgeois power is everywhere defended with brutal force.

The ANC democratic breakthrough owes its existence to successful armed struggle, in turn a part of a historic worldwide struggle against Imperialism. Yet the South African armed struggle is barely acknowledged. Instead, bourgeois virtues are daily paraded in front of us by bourgeois “role models”. The South African police shoot demonstrators, while bourgeois pacifism is pushed as a compulsory ideology for the rest of us.

Internationally in the 21st Century, Imperialism has embarked upon a series of wars, including wars in Africa, which have the character of “underdeveloping” once again and subordinating, or recolonising, African countries.

Therefore it is necessary to have a frank look at the question of the military. The political democracy must know enough about war to be able to oversee and to command the military. The military must always be subordinate to the political. This is the most important thing to know.

20 June 2012

SA Working Class and the NDR


Basics, Part 10c

SA Working Class and the NDR

In this final part of our “Basics” course, we have looked at democracy, armed struggle, and popular unity-in-action, in terms of various countries of the world. Now we look again at South Africa. The National Democratic Revolution is not a South African invention. It is a worldwide phenomenon, but it has also generated a specifically South African literature of the NDR.

Joe Slovo published the SA Working Class and the National Democratic Revolution (see the link below) at a time when he was the General Secretary of the SACP. The Party was still clandestine. The end of its 40-year period of illegality was to come two years later. Like many political documents, this pamphlet takes shape around a polemical response to contemporary opponents who may no longer be well-remembered (in this case it was the particular “workerists” and compromisers of the time that Slovo mentions on the first page of the document).

But as with the polemics of Marx, Engels and Lenin, in the course of the argument against otherwise long-forgotten foes, Slovo was obliged to set up a fully concrete, rounded assessment of the meaning of the NDR, which still remains today as the best single and definitive text on this matter in South Africa.

Slovo quickly establishes the class-alliance basis of the NDR and quotes Lenin saying that: “the advanced class ... should fight with… energy and enthusiasm for the cause of the whole people, at the head of the whole people”. This advanced class is the working class. Slovo goes on to write of the continuity of the NDR and of the institutional organisation that is the bricks-and-mortar of nation-building.

Slovo’s is a long document but it has many possibilities as the basis for a discussion and that is always our purpose: dialogue.

This instalment ends the “Basics” course.

  • The above is to introduce the original reading-text: The South African Working Class and the NDR, 1988, Slovo, Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

19 June 2012

The Armed People


Basics, Part 10b

The Armed People

A practical, actually-existing alternative to the bourgeois State – The Commune – arose in Paris, France, in the beginning of 1871.

It was more than the “right of recall”, and it was more than the whole people collectively in power and in perpetual democratic session. It was also the reappearance of The Armed People in a new kind of societal framework.

So-called Primitive Communism is an Armed People. Primitive Communism has been destroyed, and continues to be destroyed, by the simultaneous rise of property relations and fall of the women. But here, in the Paris Commune, was an Armed People in advanced productive circumstances. The Paris Commune prefigured the end of the bourgeois State’s monopoly of violence, and the consequent eventual fall of the bourgeois State in the world as a whole.

The security forces (army and police) existing in France prior to the Paris Commune had been paid by the bourgeois State to guarantee its survival. They were tasked with suppressing the working class, whenever they found suppression to be necessary, by any means of suppression they thought necessary, and they were therefore constantly prepared for bloodshed and slaughter. These forces were disbanded by the Commune and were not replaced until the Commune fell.

With hardly any exceptions, all “separations of powers” were abolished in the Paris Commune, leaving one main and constant power: The Armed People.

A century later in Chile, in the time of the Popular Unity government that fell on 11 September 1973, instead of an Armed People, a virtue was made of disarmament, and a “Peaceful Path” was worshipped as the new political Golden Calf.

In the document linked below, Volodia Teitelboim gives a brief description, from the point of view of one of those who was involved in the Chilean Popular Unity government, of its disastrous end. The fascists used the national army to overthrow the national government on behalf of the bourgeoisie. It was a shocking reminder of the real purpose and nature of the “special bodies of armed men” that are part of The State. They are there to preserve the allegiance of the State to the bourgeoisie.

Teitelboim calls for “A Reappraisal of the Issue of the Army,” meaning a return to the view of the Paris Commune, which is mentioned in the first line of Teitelboim’s document. This document is sufficient as the basis for a very good and necessary discussion in South Africa at this time.

Like the Chilean Popular Unity government, ours in South Africa today is a multiclass government underpinned by a class alliance for common goals. It is a unity-in-action, otherwise called a Popular Front.

Why has the South African NDR survived for 17 years, while the Chilean Popular Unity fell after 1,000 days?

The answer could be that we are not pacifists, as so many of the Chilean Popular Unity politicians were.

Or, the answer could be that our crisis has just not arrived yet.

Or, that we have passed at least one crisis, which may not yet be the last. That was in mid-2008, and it was resolved by the recall of President Mbeki and the resignation of various ministers including Terror Lekota and Mluleki George, Minister and Deputy Minister of Defence, respectively.

Picture: There are very few images of freedom fighters in formation, in action, or ready for action, to be found on the Internet, whether of MK or of any other liberation army. But there are many photographs of freedom fighters in captivity, or dead.

Full justice has not yet been done. Alive or dead, the revolutionaries are still rebels and outcasts in the minds of the “respectable” bourgeoisie, who owned the cameras, then, and who own the photo-archives, now.

For our part, we are still singing the Internationale, composed in Paris in the days of the Commune by the communard Eugène Pottier.

The picture is of a statue of the freedom fighter Dedan Kimathi, under the blue sky of Kenya.


18 June 2012

Political and Military Struggle

Basics, Part 10a

William and Celia Pomeroy

Political and Military Struggle

Presuming that we have by now established that we are not pacifists, but are revolutionaries who intend, by all means necessary, to assist the working class to expropriate the expropriator bourgeois class; then why can we not move with speed, and without any restraint, towards an armed overthrow of the oppressors?

Why are we bothering with democracy? Are we not being “stageist”????

The late William “Bill” Pomeroy started his essay “On the Time for Armed Struggle” (linked below) from exactly this point of departure, as follows:

“Because of the decisive results that can follow from an armed smashing of the main instruments of power held by a ruling class or a foreign oppressor, some of those who acquire a revolutionary outlook are eager to move to the stage of armed struggle; and their concept of it as the highest form of revolutionary struggle causes them to cast discredit upon other forms as 'less advanced', as amounting to collaboration with or capitulation to the class enemy.”


“Too often the aura of glory associated with taking up arms has obscured hard prosaic truths and realities in the interplay of forces in a period of sharp struggle.”

And later:

“The experiences of the revolutionary movement in the Philippines offer an interesting example of the complex, varied and fluctuating processes that may occur in a liberation struggle.”

Pomeroy writes that “analysis and understanding of the revolutionary experiences of others is indispensable”. He proceeds to offer some of his own rich and extraordinary experience as a military combatant and revolutionary.

Pomeroy’s main lesson is that the military must never think that it can cease to be subordinate to the political power. His writing and his advice helped the ANC in the exile years, when Pomeroy was exiled in London. It is important that younger comrades read these things and understand some of the problems that had to be negotiated.

William Pomeroy passed away on 12 January 2009 and Celia Pomeroy passed away on 22 August 2009.

15 June 2012

National Democracy


Basics, Part 10

National Democracy

In this, the last part of the CU Basics set, we touch upon the single biggest historic task of the Communists in the period since the founding of the Communist International (a.k.a. Third International) in 1919: National Liberation (decolonisation).

In 1920 the Comintern organised a Congress of the Peoples of the East. It was the first international anti-colonial congress. The Comintern recognised Communist Parties in many countries (including South Africa’s CPSA in 1921). In 1928 the Comintern and the CPSA adopted the “Black Republic” policy for South Africa, making the CPSA the first South African party to call for black majority rule. The CPSA was also the first South African non-racial party in terms of its membership.

This is some of our South African part in the story. But it is not only in SA but is the worldwide story of the past century, under the impetus of the Communists more than any other single political component. This is the story of political independence of the former colonies. The masses of the world have risen time and again in National Democratic Revolutions, with the invariable support of the Communists. Our internationalist duties still continue. Any political education “Basics” series must mention this.

Ever since the anti-colonial victories in so many (150-plus) countries, constituting the vast majority of the population of the globe, that set those countries free from direct colonial rule, the Imperialist powers have sought to re-impose themselves by other means: neo-colonialism.

One who has made the anti-Imperialist case very well in the face of the neo-colonial onslaught is the Tanzanian professor Issa Shivji [pictured]. Shivji reminds us that it is we freedom-fighters who are the humanists now, and it is the Imperialists who are the barbarians. See the attached document.

African Socialism

From the time of Eduard Bernstein and his 1899 book “Evolutionary Socialism”, and Rosa Luxemburg’s 1900 response to Bernstein, “Reform or Revolution?”, the same question has been put, in one way or another.

In the history of the struggle for liberation from colonialism in Africa, the question “Reform or Revolution” was once again put. To sound better and to deceive the people more easily, false counter-revolutionary “Socialism” was dressed up as “African Socialism”, and was widely used as a smokescreen for neo-colonialism from the dawn of African Independence in the 1950s and 1960s, onwards.

Dr Kwame Nkrumah spoke out firmly against this false so-called African Socialism more than forty years ago. See the attached article below. Although Kwame Nkrumah and his adversary Leopold Senghor are both long gone, yet Nkrumah’s words appear to carry as much relevant meaning as they did when they were spoken in Cairo in 1967.

11 June 2012

Class Society and the State

Basics, Part 9b


Class Society and the State

The first chapter from "The State and Revolution", linked below, is the second supplementary text to accompany “The State”, by V I Lenin.

Lenin wrote this book between the February 1917 bourgeois-democratic revolution in Russia, and the October 1917 proletarian revolution. The October Revolution dramatically interrupted his writing, leaving the work unfinished.

SACP Deputy General Secretary Jeremy Cronin has remarked that South Africa is in some ways stuck “between February and October”, meaning to compare our SA situation during the 18 years since 1994 with the eight months in 1917 between the two Russian revolutions.

The urgency of Lenin’s revolutionary purpose is apparent from the first paragraph, as is the priority he gives to the understanding of The State as a product of, and integral to, the exploitative class-divided social system that the Bolsheviks were determined to overthrow, and therefore a matter of the highest revolutionary priority.

Hence the first words are a definition and a challenge to those who would think otherwise: “The State: a Product of the Irreconcilability of Class Antagonisms”

In the first paragraph Lenin refers to the embracing of “Marxism” by the respectable bourgeoisie, and their pleasure at the amenability of “the labour unions which are so splendidly organized for the purpose of waging a predatory war!”

The world war that was raging at the time was not merely an incidental background to the Russian Revolutions of 1917. As with the lethal global neo-liberalism of today, the warmongers had seduced the major part of the social-democratic organisations that claimed to represent the working class. The organised structures of the working class had turned against the working class, and the crux of the matter was the question, then as now, of The State.

Lenin is unequivocal:

“The state is a product and a manifestation of the irreconcilability of class antagonisms. The state arises where, when and insofar as class antagonism objectively cannot be reconciled. And, conversely, the existence of the state proves that the class antagonisms are irreconcilable.”

Lenin proceeds to write that the overthrow of the bourgeois state has to be direct and forcible, whereas the withering-away of the proletarian state can only be the indirect consequence of the progressive disappearance of class antagonism during the transitional period called socialism. "The State and Revolution" goes to the very heart of the revolutionary theory of class struggle, sharpens all contradictions, and draws clear lessons - lessons that are still relevant today, and especially for South Africa.

09 June 2012

Origin of Family, Property and State


Basics, Part 9a

Origin of Family, Property and State

Today we feature Chapter 9, the chapter called “Barbarism and Civilisation”, of Engels’ book “The Origin of the Family, Private Property and The State”. The Chapter is linked as a PDF.

You can ignore the first three paragraphs of this chapter. They refer to previous chapters. The remainder of Chapter 9 is self-contained.

“The Origin of the Family, Private Property and The State” is a classic of the first rank, both within the field of Marxism, and more widely, in science.

Lenin relied on it, and referred to it often for the illumination that it gives to the revolutionary question of The State, and to the necessity of the withering-away of the State.

But this work of Frederick Engels’ is also foundational in Archaeology and Paleoanthropology (i.e. the study of the pre-history of human society), just as Engels’ “The Condition of the Working Class in England” was foundational to the study of the formation of cities, (Urbanism, also called Urban Studies or Town Planning). Engels, who never formally attended a university, is nevertheless one of the towering historic founders of scholarly disciplines.

Marx had already worked on source material for this project, including Henry Morgan’s 1877 book called “Ancient Society”.  Engels found Marx’s working papers after Marx’s death in 1883 and immediately set to work to prepare a book from them for publication.

The particular contribution of “The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State” is that it shows the common, interdependent origin of private property and the State, plus the fall of the women into the oppressive condition which they subsequently continued to suffer, and also the institutions of money, writing and law.

The simultaneous revolutionary break in all of these things marks the end of pre-history and the beginning of history, which as Marx and Engels had noted in the Communist Manifesto, was from that point onwards “a history of class struggles”.

The transition from prehistoric communism into class society took place a long time ago in some parts of the world, and much more recently in other parts. In Egypt and Iraq (Mesopotamia) it may have happened more than five thousand years ago. In most other parts of the world the transition was much more recent.

The simultaneous nature of the triple catastrophe (property, state and downfall of women) may mean that the remedy for all three will likewise have to be simultaneous. The urgent abolition or “withering away” of the State is for that reason a woman’s issue, and the socialist project is a woman’s project, because they are all part of the same complex of oppressions. Communism is a necessity for women.

The reversal of the downfall of the women can only be achieved by the abolition of property and the State. Likewise, the abolition of property and the State cannot be achieved without the conscious restoration of women to their proper place in human society. All three goals have to be achieved together. The three goals are actually the same goal, and the name of it is communism.

Image [painting by Tamara Lempicka]: Another way of imagining the origins of human society: Adam, Eve, and the Apple (The Fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil).

08 June 2012

The State


Basics, Part 9


The State

The main text today is Lenin’s lecture, “The State” (download linked below).

In “Bourgeois and Proletarians”, the first section of the Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx wrote: “The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.”

In other words: The modern State is the executive committee of the ruling bourgeois class, of which there is not, and cannot be, any other such ruling executive committee or totalising authority.

The State manifests itself in many ways. Not only is it Legislature, Executive and Judiciary, but it also includes the “Special Bodies of Armed Men” (police, intelligence and military), the “sovereign document” of the Constitution, the State Owned Enterprises, “Delivery” departments like Education, Health, and Public Works; and others.

As communists we hold fast to the concept of the State as the instrument of class power that enforces and perpetuates bourgeois class dictatorship in our country. We do not believe that the State is neutral, or above class struggle. The State is the principal instrument of class struggle on behalf of the ruling bourgeois class.

We intend that there should as soon as possible be no class division and therefore that the State as we know it would become redundant and give way to social self-management, or in other words, to communism: true freedom.

Yet the term “State” is used in other, less strict senses, and we as political people who must communicate with others, do also use the word in other senses than the above. For example, we sometimes use the phrase “Developmental State”, which even if we ourselves would qualify its meaning, is nevertheless widely understood as meaning a State that is equally beneficial to all classes (i.e. is a “win-win”, or classless, or neutral state).

We are fortunate to have the lecture that Lenin [pictured] gave to students in Moscow in 1919 on this topic, wherein Lenin asks “what is the state, how did it arise and fundamentally what attitude to the state should be displayed by the party of the working class, which is fighting for the complete overthrow of capitalism - the Communist Party?”

Lenin referred his audience to Engels’ Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State”. Engels’ book sweeps through the whole human story and explains the fall of the women, as well as class struggle and the state. We will take it as our next item in this part, and then, for a fuller treatment from Lenin, there is the extraordinary work that he produced between the two Russian revolutions of February and October, 1917: “The State and Revolution”, Chapter 1 of which will be our third item in this ninth part of our course.